A bustling crowd of supporters filled the Student Union at Mills on Feb. 24 to commemorate the launch of the book Birth Justice: Black Women, Pregnancy, and Childbirth.
Mills College associate provost and co-head of the ethnic studies department Dr. Julia Chinyere-Oparah, and her colleague Alicia D. Bonaparte co-edited the book, which contains over 100 stories of birth, including the experiences of cis and transgender individuals. Oparah said difficult experiences during her own birthing process and subsequent conversations with other Black women, who had similar experiences, inspired her to collect and share the stories in the book.
During the debut, drumming group Sistahs of the Drum captured the spirit of celebration and liberation, while the diverse range of shared stories highlighted the multifaceted aspects of birthing. The anthology aims to help Black people feel empowered through their birthing experiences and to bring to light the issues of hyper-medicalization, policing and objectification of Black pregnant bodies. The book also addresses incidents of pregnancy-related mortality, which disproportionately affects Black communities.
“I didn’t think I expected to get so emotional,” junior Whitley Gilbert said. “I walked in there like, ‘what is birthing justice?’ and ended up being really touched by how it was related to my own life.”
Gilbert shared that two weeks before the event her sister experienced a miscarriage.
“People like my sister don’t know that what she’s experiencing is part of a bigger thing,” Gilbert said. “She doesn’t realize the things that are happening to her are part of a bigger problem. It was very emotional for me.”
Graciela Olguin, a senior in the ethnic studies department, interned for Oparah in Fall 2015. Olguin, who uses they/them pronouns, said the experience of helping with the book opened them up to the experiences of Black women and the breadth of birthing justice.
“People always talk about birthing justice in terms of abortion, but for people of color it’s also about the right to have children,” Olguin said.
Oparah said she hopes the reach of the book will continue to expand and that it will inspire national and international discussions and connections about birthing justice.
The book is now available on Amazon.com.